Residual US force to be left in Afghanistan

(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

As the Taliban continues to retake provinces across Afghanistan, including Kunduz province, we’re getting a better look at what the United States is planning to do after the troop withdrawal is “complete.” The latest word from the Biden administration seems to indicate that it’s not going to be a full withdrawal after all. Pentagon officials told the Associated Press yesterday that they anticipate keeping approximately 650 troops in the country after the rest of our forces have pulled out, most likely in the next two weeks. Those troops will be tasked with providing security for diplomats in the capital city. The total number may be closer to 1,000, however, because “several hundred” more will be stationed at the Kabul airport until that facility can be handed over to Turkish troops later this year. This is beginning to look like a very unstable situation.

Roughly 650 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes its withdrawal, which is set to be largely done in the next two weeks, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

In addition, several hundred additional American forces will remain at the Kabul airport, potentially until September, to assist Turkish troops providing security, as a temporary move until a more formal Turkey-led security operation is in place, the officials said Thursday. Overall, officials said the U.S. expects to have American and coalition military command, its leadership and most troops out by July Fourth, or shortly after that, meeting an aspirational deadline that commanders developed months ago.

It sounds as if we’ve mostly given up on the idea of the current Afghan government surviving after the withdrawal. Officials speaking off the record are admitting that the Taliban may take back control of the entire nation in a matter of months.

My major concern here is what will happen to the remaining United States forces in the country after everyone else has left. 650 American soldiers can no doubt put up one heck of a fight, but can they hold off the entire Taliban militant presence if the terrorist group mounts a full, sustained attack? Also, the airport outside of the capital seems like a rather obvious target for the Taliban. I’d prefer to assume that our commanders have worked through all of the possible scenarios and are confident that our soldiers will be secure, but they are quickly running out of territory that isn’t controlled by the insurgents.

If we wind up in a situation where a significant number of our troops are either killed or taken prisoner by the Taliban, this will turn into a major debacle. If the primary mission of the troops in Kabul is to provide security for diplomats, what is their purpose if the administration is quietly admitting that the current government is likely to fall? As for the airport presence, it’s difficult to see what difference will be made by turning that real estate over to Turkish troops. It seems unlikely that the Taliban will make much of a distinction between U.S. and Turkish forces or treat the latter more kindly.

As far as I’m concerned, if we’re leaving we need to just leave. Unfortunately, we also seem poised to leave many of the translators and other helpers who assisted us behind. Given a few more months, we probably have gotten a significant portion of them out of Afghanistan, going either to the United States or to some third country to await background checks and visa processing. But getting all of them taken care of by the 4th of July looks impossible. They’re not going to fare well after we are gone.

I hope I’m wrong about all of this and that the Pentagon has quietly put plans in place to avoid these worst-case scenarios. But I’m really getting a bad feeling about this news.